One of the most distinctive artists of the Art Nouveau period was the Czech artist, Alfons Maria Mucha (1860-1939). He was born in Ivančice, at the time part of the enormous Austro-Hungarian Empire (now part of Southern Czech Republic). After studying in Munich and Paris, Mucha experienced a fortuitous "stroke of luck." The great French actress, Sarah Bernhardt, happened to call her Parisian printer on the day after Christmas 1894; she wanted a new poster designed (immediately!) for her hit play Gismonda, which was being extended due to popular demand. All of the printer's regular "house artists" were away for the holidays—but the young Alfons happened to be in the workshop at the time, inspecting another artist's proofs as a favor. Speed was of the essence! So the printer hired Mucha to quickly make-up a poster.
Mucha set-to-work instantly. Within six days, the greater-than-lifesize (over 7 feet tall) poster was designed, drawn and printed—and on 1 January 1895, copies of the poster were hung throughout the streets of Paris. They ignited an immediate frenzy; the men who hung the posters were reportedly offered bribes in exchange for a copy of the poster. Some posters were cut down from their walls at night. Bernhardt quickly ordered 4,000 more copies and signed Mucha to a six-year contract. Today, preserved copies of the original poster can be found for sale north of $30,000.
From this point, Mucha's work was in great demand—mostly as an illustrator—and he did a lot of work for advertising, packaging and posters (exploiting the somewhat new synergy between graphic art and the modern lithographic print technology—which allowed great artwork to be brought to the masses for the first time). Mucha also accepted decorative painting commissions, murals and panels, to be installed in homes, public spaces and other places of business.
During the second half of his career, Mucha focused on elaborate, non-commercial endeavors—some of which blended his deep religious convictions with his national and cultural pride. One such project, called The Slav Epic, was a series of 20 monumental and theatrical panels depicting various aspects of the mythology and history of the Slavic People (created 1910-1928). When completed, he presented them to the Nation with the understanding that a pavilion would be built and that they would be displayed for the public. For decades, they were displayed at Moravsky Krumlov (in the Southern, Moravian portion of the Czech Republic). After much public argument, they were moved to Prague where more people could potentially see them, and they were installed in the National Gallery (2012-2016) and then exhibited in Brno (2018). They've been in storage since then.
The sliding bookrack, shown above, features the portraits of two winsome young ladies—their hair entangled in a dramatic storm of "whiplash" motion. Though they were not designed by Mucha, they were certainly inspired by his style of work. Please click on the photo above to learn more about them.
Though our Greenwich Village store is now permanently closed, LEO Design is still alive and well! Please visit our on-line store where we continue to sell Handsome Gifts (www.LEOdesignNYC.com).
We also can be found in Pittsburgh's historic "Strip District" at Mahla & Co. Antiques (www.mahlaantiques.com) or in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania at The Antique Center of Strabane (www.antiquecenterofstrabane.com).
Or call to arrange to visit our Pittsburgh showroom (by private appointment only). 917-446-4248